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    Inside Trump’s private meeting with the video game industry — and its critics

    Mandatory Credit: Photo by MICHAEL REYNOLDS/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock (9452506v) Donald J. Trump US President Donald J. Trump signs a presidential proclamation on tariffs, Washington, USA - 08 Mar 2018 US President Donald J. Trump delivers remarks before signing a presidential proclamation on steel and aluminum tariffs, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 08 March 2018. President Trump is imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. A decision to impose the tariffs on Canada or Mexico will not be decided until negotiations on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
    President Donald Trump.

    WASHINGTON — Republican lawmakers and conservative media critics pressed President Donald Trump on Thursday to explore new restrictions on the video game industry, arguing that violent games may have contributed to mass shootings like the attack in Parkland, Fla., last month.

    In a private meeting at the White House, also attended by several video game executives, some participants urged Trump to consider new regulations that would make it harder for children to purchase those games. Others asked the president to expand his inquiry to focus on violent movies and TV shows too.

    Trump himself opened the meeting by showing ‘‘a montage of clips of various violent video games,’’ said Rep. Vicky Hartzler, a Republican from Missouri. Then, Hartzler said the president would ask, ‘‘This is violent isn’t it?’’


    ‘‘They were violent clips where individuals were killing other human beings in various ways,’’ she said.

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    Trump’s roundtable on Thursday marked his latest listening session on gun violence in the aftermath of last month’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman High School, which left 17 students dead. In recent weeks, Trump has suggested a number of ideas to address gun deaths — even arming teachers at schools — while lawmakers have explored their own solutions.

    In doing so, the president has expressed deep unease with violent video games, at one point contending last month that they are ‘‘shaping young people’s thoughts.’’ He also proposed that ‘‘we have to do something about maybe what they’re seeing and how they’re seeing it.’’

    Video game executives who were scheduled to attend the meeting Thursday included Robert Altman, the CEO of ZeniMax, the parent company for games such as Fallout; Strauss Zelnick, the chief executive of Take Two Interactive, which is known for Grand Theft Auto, and Michael Gallagher, the leader of the Entertainment Software Association, a Washington-focused lobbying organization for the industry.

    Each organization did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.


    Those who did join Trump said he appeared open-minded, seeking solutions from everyone — including executives from the video-game industry. It was ‘‘respectful but contentious,’’ said Melissa Henson, program director for the Parents Television Council.

    Henson said that she and her peers argued that a ‘‘steady diet of media violence is having a corrosive effect on our culture,’’ while video game executives were ‘‘every bit as firm in their conviction there is no relation.’’

    And at times, calls for greater oversight, scrutiny and regulation came strong.

    ‘‘I think he’s deeply disturbed by some of the things you see in these video games that are so darn violent, viciously violent, and clearly inappropriate for children, and I think he’s bothered by that,’’ said Brent Bozell, the president of the Media Research Council, who joined the meeting.

    Bozell said he also communicated to Trump a need for ‘‘much tougher regulation’’ of the video-game industry, stressing that violent games ‘‘needed to be given the same kind of thought as tobacco and liquor.’’


    For now, the White House already has hinted at sustained, broader scrutiny still to come. A day before the meeting, a spokeswoman for Trump said the sit-down with video-game executives and their critics is ‘‘the first of many with industry leaders to discuss this important issue.’’ Privately, lobbyists for tech giants and movie studios quickly expressed early unease that they might soon be dragged up to the White House, too.

    On Thursday, though, the White House did not respond to questions about the meeting, which had been closed to reporters hours before it took place.

    Along with Bozell and Hartzler, Trump also included lawmakers like Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Martha Roby. Their offices did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment.

    But one Democratic lawmakers who was not in attendance, however, quickly derided Trump’s efforts, arguing it overshadowed the real issue in their minds - seeking new restrictions on gun sales.

    ‘‘Focusing entirely on video games distracts from the substantive debate we should be having about how to take guns out of the hands of dangerous people,’’ said Sen. Richard Blumenthal in a statement.

    ‘‘I’m willing to look at anything and everything that may help address the gun violence epidemic that has swept our country - including addressing the culture of violence many see in America today,’’ he said. ‘‘But there is an urgent need now for meaningful action on extreme risk protection orders, expanded background checks, and banning assault weapons. Blaming video games or the entertainment media for the 90 American lives lost every single day to gun violence is an unacceptable excuse to avoid talking about serious policy proposals.’’

    Conservatives sharply disagreed.

    ‘‘I would ask them respectfully for once to stop playing politics. If you care about this issue, you will look at Jonesboro, Arkansas; Columbine; Newton, Connecticut,’’ said Bozell. ‘‘In so many other places where you had mass shootings by children and every instance I just gave, that child who was the shooter was watching violent video games.’’

    Trump is hardly the first president to call attention to violent video games. Years earlier, then-Sen. Hillary Clinton sought to restrict sales of mature-themed video games to minors. And the issue drew the attention of former president Barack Obama following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. At the time, he called on Congress to fund new federal research into the link between these games and aggression and violence in youngsters - a request that lawmakers never delivered.